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Outrageous Treatment of Nashville Rape Victims

May 30, 2007

The Nashville Scene has an article in this week’s edition, “Rape Trauma,” in which author Jeff Woods explains that victims of rape in Nashville, TN are all directed to Nashville General Hospital for a forensic medical examination, even if they initially went to a different ER following the rape. Woods writes:

If a woman is beaten and raped, she would be taken to the nearest hospital for the fastest treatment. But once her condition is stabilized, she would learn that she has to schlepp to General Hospital to undergo the examination, which is essential as part of the evidence against her attacker if he’s ever arrested.


To the astonishment of some officials connected to law enforcement in Nashville, General Hospital is the only one in the city offering the rape exams—that is, with one exception: Vanderbilt Medical Center also gives the exams, but only to the university’s students or faculty.

I had no idea this was going on, and it is truly outrageous. Davidson County (where Nashville is located) has about 7 major hospitals. Why can’t they all manage the complete care of rape victims rather than shuffling an already traumatized person off to another facility? What about women who lack adequate transportation? What about the women who expended all of their available emotional and psychological resources just seeking care in the first place?

The police are no big supporters of victims, according to Woods’s piece:

Police go along with the procedure because “it’s more convenient for us having one place to do the exams,” says Lt. Chris Blackwell, who supervises the police sex crime unit. “It actually works better for us.”

Great, it’s easy for the police. That’s what we’re all concerned about when people are brutally violated. Woods also reports that the spokesperson for two of Nashville’s major hospitals, St. Thomas and Baptist, specifically stated that they don’t offer the forensic examination because “It’s what detectives want from us.” You’re kidding me, right? Hospitals are making policy on how to handle rape victims because of police preference? Look, I understand that the forensic exam is not technically medical care – it’s purpose is to preserve evidence against the rapist. But really, what kind of care is the rape victim getting if they can’t get the complete rape-related workup in one place? So many women don’t report in the first place – this is just an added barrier to women finding justice and peace in a terrible situation.

The story also indicates that money may be an issue:

One official who asked not to be named says the hospitals prefer not to give the exams because many rape victims may not have health insurance and cannot pay for the tests. At General Hospital, the city picks up the costs of the exams.

I’m sure hospitals might prefer not to give heart attack care, broken bone care, and labor & delivery care to people who can’t pay, either, but they end up doing it. I can logically somewhat understand the rationale behind this, but what I can’t understand is the sentiment. To agree with this practice, you’d have to agree that rape and collecting evidence in a rape is not an emergency. What can the doctors really do at the first hospital if they can’t risk disturbing the evidence? Remember all those warnings not to shower and to go straight to the hospital? They can attend to the bumps and bruises, but apparently can’t attend to the complete needs of the victim. And really, if General is doing about 200 exams per year as the story states, would it really break any of the other hospitals to take a share of those?

I’ll admit that I have a fairly emotions-based reaction to this story, but I just can’t agree with putting more hurdles in front of already suffering people.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2007 8:16 pm

    Wow. That makes me very, very, VERY angry. How unfair.

  2. May 30, 2007 11:19 pm

    What a horrifying experience for the victim. I would tend to agree that money or lack of insurance plays a large part in this. But what about the victims’ feelings and the psychological part it plays on them — another cost to endure for the trauma the victim experiences. Mmmm.

  3. May 31, 2007 5:24 am

    I did not know this.

    Rachel, I want to do something about this, but I have to be careful. (I think you know my employer)

    Send me an email. I’ll reply tonight.

    We can try quiet pursuasion before agitation.

  4. May 31, 2007 6:09 am

    Slarti – done. PS – I barely recognized you in the B to Beantown photos!

  5. June 1, 2007 2:18 pm

    That is all terrible, and you have written a great post here about it. I’m going to try to find out what the sitch down here is too just for comparison.

    For the record, I think this is a policy made during the last 20 years because I can’t recall being directed to send those patients to General circa 1987 when I worked at a certain large Nashville ER.

  6. ncjc212 permalink
    June 1, 2007 2:25 pm

    “If hospitals won’t hire their own nurse practitioners to do the exams, then why not have the nurses at General go to rape victims at the other hospitals rather than the other way around? “It’s a logistics issue,” says Sandy Myers, who supervises the eight nurse practitioners who do the tests at General. “It’s just so much easier for us.””

    Seems convenient for everyone but the victim. Until you walk in a rape victim’s shoes, you cannot understand what it feels like to be shunted around Nashville. This needs to change.

  7. June 1, 2007 2:47 pm

    And PS –

    Police go along with the procedure because “it’s more convenient for us having one place to do the exams,” says Lt. Chris Blackwell, who supervises the police sex crime unit. “It actually works better for us.”

    This is just so totally wrong it isn’t even funny and I’m in total agreement with you, Rachel. It should be what’s convenient and easier and works better for the VICTIM – not the police.

    I know of a couple of other rape assistance programs in Tennessee cities that would have lobbied hard to get something like that changed, I can’t believe there’s not some similar organization who hasn’t done the same in Nashville. That policy is totally bogus and god knows how many women either don’t report a rape or don’t go the full mile in reporting, and possibly helping catch a criminal, because of that idiotic policy of sending them all to General.

  8. June 1, 2007 2:50 pm

    OK, upon a second re-read of the Scene article I see that an organization there is against it: Tim Tohill, president of the Nashville Rape Crisis Center, says, “Women should be able to go to any hospital in town and be served in an appropriate way…”

    So good, but Metro Government and law enforcement needs to listen. I daresay anyone who has the power to get the policy changed in either city government or law enforcement would have a cow if their wife or daughter was raped and had to go thru those procedures.

  9. June 1, 2007 2:55 pm

    Thanks for all of your comments. I agree with all of you that this needs to change. I may try to get in contact with the Center and see what we can do to help with this change.

  10. June 1, 2007 3:07 pm

    This is as clear a sign as you’ll ever get that the police are not on your side.

  11. June 1, 2007 3:44 pm

    Holy crap. I also had no idea. This is truly outrageous. Hoping you and Slarti come up with a good idea – let me know if I can help. It also makes me wonder what procedures are for Rutherford County rape victims.

  12. June 1, 2007 7:39 pm

    I remember hearing this years ago, not long after I first moved to Nashville [in 1989]. So while it may not have been in effect when you were here, Lynnster, it must have happened right after. I have always thought it was stupid.

  13. June 2, 2007 6:09 am

    For once we are completely in agreement.

  14. Sarah permalink
    July 31, 2007 10:32 am

    I really do hope that something can be done about this. As a victim myself and has never been treated, I can say, it really does take allot to come out and say something. Its only this week has it all been coming back to me and been really on my mind. I really hope you guys can get this changed there, because if I had actually went to an ER and they told me that I had to go somewhere else, then I would never make it at all.

  15. July 31, 2007 10:37 am

    Thank you for your comment – it really reflects the problem of the current arrangement. I plan on contacting some of the local hospitals and asking if they will add this service now that the state is going to pay for it, I just have to track down the appropriate contacts.

  16. kuma permalink
    May 14, 2008 1:36 am

    thanks for the post. it makes me wanna study more about how we treat , faciliate and perhaps sadly add to the hardship of rape victims under our systems and procedures.
    I understand there are aid groups dedicated to protet women especially those sexually abused and raped, to accompany them since the receive phone calls and to the hospitals and the polie etc. It is great ssistance to the victims. But yes, I need to reexamine what the police is doing and the hosital system is doing , if victims can choose the treatment they want. I think priority should always go with the victims.


  1. Nashville is Talking » Easier for Investigators
  2. Golly, Officer, I'm Awfully Sorry My Rape is So Inconvenient for You « Tiny Cat Pants
  3. 25th Carnival of Sexual Violence is up « Women’s Health News
  4. On Treatment of Nashville Rape Victims, They Just Don’t Get It « Women’s Health News
  5. Updated Information On Treatment of Nashville Rape Victims « Women’s Health News
  6. North Carolina Makes Rape Victims Pay for Forensic Testing « Women’s Health News

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